SCRANTON -- Five area college students are gaining clinical exposure and an inside look at medical school thanks to a new program at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine (GCSOM). The Abigail Geisinger Pre-Medical Clinical Experiences Program was designed to increase the chances for talented local students to gain acceptance to medical school and to remain in the region to care for their neighbors.

Joseph Bannon, MD, a surgeon and clinical faculty member at GCSOM created the program with Michelle Schmude, Ed.D., GCSOM’s associate dean for admissions, enrollment management & financial aid and associate professor. “Geisinger is very much committed to our community and an important part of our mission is education,” Dr. Bannon said. “This program allows us to provide some of the best and brightest local college students and aspiring physicians a valuable clinical experience.  At the same time, it enables us to showcase to our future physicians at an early age, the latest in medical innovation and technology and some of what the Geisinger Health System has to offer right here at home.”

Clinical experiences, including shadowing, are an essential element to a successful medical school application. “To be competitive, a medical school applicant has to demonstrate a sincere interest in medicine, which typically means direct and indirect exposure to medicine. It’s very difficult for students to cold call physicians in the hopes one will agree to provide that experience. Physician shadowing is just one of the things our program will provide, along with structured sessions on topics like financial aid for medical school, the business of medicine and the intricacies of AMCAS, the American Medical College Application Service,” Dr. Schmude said.

The five-week program began July 8. Students attend the program daily and are assigned attending physicians at Geisinger Community Medical Center for shadowing and mentoring. The intent is to expose participants to a wide range of medical specialties. The students will also have the opportunity to attend regular conferences like Tumor Board, where physicians discuss interesting medical cases. Prior to accessing clinical areas, the students received rigorous training in HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act that provides data privacy and security provisions for safeguarding personal medical information.

Selection to the program is competitive. The students chosen must live in the counties within Geisinger’s footprint, be enrolled at one of three participating universities (King’s College, Wilkes University or The University of Scranton) and be academically qualified. “The most important qualification in choosing participants, however, is how well the student aligns with Geisinger’s mission, so we really look for a commitment to service, particularly a desire to serve our local communities,” Dr. Schmude said.

Those chosen to be the first participants in the Abigail Geisinger Pre-Medical Clinical Experiences Program are:

Michael Kovalick of Dallas. The soon-to-be senior at Wilkes University said he applied to the program because of his interest in attending GCSOM. “Since I hope to remain in the area, I like that the school focuses on replenishing the local physician workforce,” he said. “I want to practice family medicine in my own community and Geisinger fits my vision for the future.”

Parita Ray of Scranton is a junior biology major at The University of Scranton. She agreed that the program’s mission resonates with her and said, “It’s also an amazing chance to shadow different specialties within medicine. I was having difficulty finding shadowing experiences just by calling myself, so I am very excited to take part in this program.”

Christina Carachilo of Carbondale is a sophomore at The University of Scranton and, as an emergency medical technician (EMT), she already has some clinical experience. “I am with a patient until we drop them off at the Emergency Department,” she said. “I am really eager to see what happens after our patients go through those doors. I want to see the next step.”

Katherine (Kate) Musto of Pittston, is a senior at The University of Scranton. She has strong ties to GCSOM, having one brother now attending the school and another who graduated from GCSOM and is now a practicing primary care physician in West Wyoming. “I want to be a doctor practicing in my own community,” she said. “That’s why this program was such a draw for me.”

Mahad Muhammad of Mountain Top is a biology major at The University of Scranton. “I’ve worked as a volunteer at Ultra Urgent and Family Care in Kingston, but mostly I only see the business side of medicine. I am looking forward to witnessing patient interactions and to be in room when medicine is practiced,” he said.